Daddy Deadliest

Millionaire Allen Blackthorne had a unique scheme to regain custody of his kids--have his ex-wife murdered

Blackthorne, in his last gamble, demanded to confront his accusers. Seated with legs casually crossed in the witness stand, he appeared humble. Words like "please" and "thanks" spilled from his lips, and he showed no hint of his legendary temper, even when cross-examined by prosecutor John Murphy, a ruddy man whose courtroom outbursts and sneers had earned him the nickname "Mad Dog."

He cried and contorted his face only when he talked about surrendering parental rights to his daughters. At the time, Blackthorne said, it seemed the best way to defuse his feud with Sheila. But once she was dead, the girls were orphans in the eyes of the state.

"I wouldn't want her killed. She was the mother of Stevie and Daryl. Who else did they have?" he told jurors. "Think about it."

Allen Blackthorne, a self-made millionaire, seemed at first to be an unlikely murder suspect. In fact, he'd had a series of run-ins with the law.
Allen Blackthorne, a self-made millionaire, seemed at first to be an unlikely murder suspect. In fact, he'd had a series of run-ins with the law.

Maureen Blackthorne was the last witness in the roughly four-week trial. She called Blackthorne a wonderful father and obedient spouse. After standing fast by her husband, her last words on the witness stand sounded appropriately, if unintentionally, like wedding vows. Asked if she cared for Allen's daughters, she answered in a tortured whisper, "I do."

The jury disappeared into the deliberating room, leaving a crowd of family members, reporters, and trial watchers loyally and anxiously perched outside the courtroom as hours dragged into days. On the third day of deliberations, a pigeon careened into a plate-glass window, barely missing Maureen. When it survived to fly away, her friend pronounced it a good omen.

After five days of deliberations and years of unfinished business, the case abruptly ended on July 7. That morning, days before his own trial was to start in Sarasota, Joey Del Toro pleaded guilty in exchange for nothing more than a chance to hug his family goodbye and a guarantee that the government would soon return his car to his grandmother. Del Toro told the court he deserved to die. He sang a hymn about forgiveness, a hymn of his own creation, in a soft but tuneless voice on the evening news. Hours later and more than 980 miles away, the San Antonio jury found Blackthorne guilty. The defendant sat calmly, turning to murmur "It's OK" to his wife weeping two rows back.

Sheila's mother, Gene Smith, left the court, matching Del Toro's hymn by bursting into the Lord's Prayer. Maureen remained in the courtroom, face buried and shoulders quaking in a defense lawyer's arms.

The trial continued to replay in Blackthorne's mind weeks later, when he called the San Antonio Express-News to request an interview. Locked in the federal detention center, the millionaire, reduced to calling collect, was still confident.

The case was preposterous, he insisted. Inconsistencies undermined government witnesses and the prosecution's basic premise. Why would a rich man like Blackthorne hire "Curly, Larry, and Moe" to commit murder? "What, I don't have the resources to go hire a professional?" he demanded. Why did nobody acknowledge what seemed to him simple truths?

Disgusted, Blackthorne said, "Maybe I'm a sociopath and I don't know it."

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